Mark stood beside his mother. He smiled through turned down lips and shook the hands of relatives he hadn’t seen since he was a child. The turn-out wasn’t what he had expected, but then, rumours of a murderer and thief in the family have a way of helping people decide they would rather stay home.
The last person in line dabbed at her eyes with a silk handkerchief and stopped in front of Mark’s mother. Her wavy, dark hair was pushed back in a loose braid. She wore a simple, knee length black dress, but it was the type of simple that came with a big price tag. She held the kerchief in one hand and a small, plain clutch in the other. They hugged and exchanged a few words.
Mark was caught off guard when the woman moved in front of him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Oh, Mark, I’m so sorry. Everything about this is so terrible.”
Mark brought one hand up and set it on her back. Her hair was soft on his cheek. She smelled like lemongrass. When she pulled back, Mark fixated on her soft, brown eyes.
“Oh.” The woman’s eyes went wide. “I’m sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you.” She fanned her fingers out with the kerchief tucked by her thumb. “Poppy. I’m… I mean, I was Liz’s…”
“Roommate?” Mark said.
Poppy’s eyes moved to Mark’s mother.
“Mark, this is Liz’s girlfriend,” his mother said.
Words caught in Mark’s throat. His face flushed with colour.
Poppy sniffled and shrugged. “It’s okay. I mean…”
Mark held a hand up and shook his head. “No, no. I’m sorry. I… I should have known.”
“It’s okay, really.”
“No, I’m an idiot.”
Poppy reached out and held Mark’s hand between hers. “Mark, I promise, it’s okay.”
Mark let out a long breath. His lips pinched together, and he closed his eyes. “Sorry.”
When he opened them again, Poppy gave a short laugh, and wiped at another tear. “Liz talked about you all the time. I guess I feel like I know you so well already.”
“I wish I could say the same,” Mark said. “How long were you guys…”
“About three years.”
Mark lowered his head. “Oh, wow.”
“We’ve lived together for the last six months or so.”
Mark nodded, and he tilted his head. He looked up to Poppy and forced a smile. “Do you think we could, I don’t know, get together for a coffee or something? I could come over, when you’re ready of course. It would mean a lot to catch up.”
Poppy returned his sad smile. “That would mean a lot to me if you did.”
Mark nodded. “Thank you.” He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and took out a small ring-bound notepad and pen. He flipped to a clean page and started writing. When he was done, he ripped the page free and held it out for Poppy.
Poppy took the piece of paper and tucked it into her clutch. “I’ll talk to you soon, Mark.”
They gave each other an awkward smile, and then Poppy walked away. She moved along the row of headstones and turned down a gravel pathway. Mark looked across the path to a group of trees on a low rise. He thought he caught movement, maybe a flash of light. When he focused on it, he did not see anything out of the ordinary.
Image by Kaleigh Kanary